The Rapture
In the Grace of Your Love

The Rapture was always ahead of its time. The New York–based dance-punk band was a driving force behind the post-punk revival of the early 2000s with its release of Mirror back in 1999. They are known primarily for folding disco and electronica into the seemingly impenetrable and abrasive noise of no wave, resulting in a bombastic, energetic sound. In the Grace of Your Love is their first release in five years, and the now-trio are at a crossroads, to say the least.

The album begins with a bang with “Sail Away,” a proper and refreshing burst of energy that should set the tone for what’s to come. Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn’t quite fall into place. The clapping beats are still there, namely on tracks like “Miss You” and the punchy “Never Gonna Die Again,” but those feel comparatively empty. True, The Rapture is playing with a man down, so to speak, with bassist Matt Safer leaving the band before the recording of this album, but that can’t quite explain away the lull. Gabriel Andruzzi does a more than competent job filling Safer’s role, and many of the songs are contemplative and much darker than those on Pieces of the People We Love and Echoes. Even the percussively upbeat “Come Back to Me” progresses into a stripped-down electronic jam session. The same can be said for the album’s title track, which is a winding bass-driven song that never climaxes, but instead lingers and sulks, though vocalist Luke Jenner’s voice does posses a certain, albeit very subtle, Plantian (as in Robert) quality. The truly bright spots are tucked away at the end of the album on song numbers 8 and 10. “Children,” the former, is a robust coming-of-age track with a chorus that swells to a whimsical peak, and “How Deep Is Your Love,” the latter, reveals that some of their old spark is still there, no matter how buried.

The album’s dilemma is a question of whether it is better to have a solid, cohesive album that may very well be overlooked by the masses or a record that has a few catchy songs suited for television shows, videogames, etc. The Rapture is at a true turning point. Past albums have produced that music for the masses, but were on the whole thin and strung out. In the Grace of Your Love is evidence that The Rapture has grown as a band and as musicians. It’s substantive and consistent, but after hitting a peak early on, lacks the previous high highs reached by “Echoes,” “Whoo! Alright, Yeah... Uh Huh” and “Don Gon Do It.” Perhaps substance in this case doesn’t always equal better, and it seems we’ll have to wait until the next album for an answer to that nagging question.
Jennifer Farmer

Sargent House

Magicians have a way of making you concentrate on their hands. Their fingers fluctuate, pulling, and subsequently dispersing, your consciousness into a new illusion that your brain wasn’t exactly ready to witness but was glad to take part in regardless. Your eyes follow as they spin tails with their mouths, making something that was at first ordinary completely unique and beautiful. Welcome to the craft belonging to the Sacramento, California band Hella.

Formed in earnest in 2002, the brainchild of guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill has been fairly quiet over the past three-plus years. Rumors of a hiatus and an all out break-up have circled the band like a wagon train of restless outlaws until this year with the release of the stellar Tripper, an album that sees a return to the initial duo status from a multiple-year run of extra instrumentalists. There is no “better” or “worse” with this album as Hella’s discography is chalk full of excellent selections ranging from 2002’s Hold Your Horse Is to 2007’s There’s No 666 in Outer Space. Tripper is merely another pile of songs that both amaze with insanely melodic chord structures and renew hope in contemporary music with a completely original sound born from a large plethora of influences. If you’re looking for specific selections to sink your music nerd sweet tooth into, look no further than the brutal metal mash-up of “Yubacore” and the sleek and linear freakout of “Osaka.” Hill and Seim perform these songs as though they were asthmatic long distance runners, pushing each part to a mathematically explosive brink before switching gears completely. The result of their stoned equations is perhaps one of the best albums 2011 is likely to see. Unfortunately for them, they are a musician’s band which may keep this album from ever reaching many listeners’ eardrums. It is because of this that this reviewer must do his best to shake the lapels of any sonic junkie and say to them emphatically that this album, this band and this genre they’ve helped to create is nothing to ignore.
Terrence Adams

MP3: “Headless”

Haunted House
Blue Ghost Blues
Northern Spy

Loren Connors
Red Mars
Family Vineyard

In a perfect world, Loren Connors would be a household name. Now entering his fifth decade of performing and recording, the prolific guitarist has produced a large catalog of hauntingly beautiful work that, at its best, is among the most interesting contemporary American music. With the release of Blue Ghost Blues and Red Mars, the 61 year-old Connors adds two markedly different albums to his discography.

Blue Ghost Blues is the second album from Haunted House, a band led by Connors that was active for two years during the ’90s and recently reformed. The quartet, which takes its name from a song by early blues pioneer Lonnie Johnson, performs what has aptly been described as “abstract blues,” a type of deconstructed, minimalistic music that is decidedly dissimilar from what you would hear at your local BB King’s franchise. Throughout Blue Ghost Blues, Haunted House seems to be on a search for the mysterious, dark magic that animated American music in the early 20th century. “Millie’s Not Afraid,” the opening track, is an almost desperate wail built upon a chugging rhythm guitar and featuring a cacophonous storm of an electric lead and singer Suzanne Langille’s impassioned vocals. The centerpeice of the album is its title track, a carefully developed and eerie song that becomes increasing creepy over its 12 and a half minutes as Connors’ pulsating guitar assault builds tension with the Indian hand percussion of Neel Murgai. At times the mix of instruments and voices carries the force of a powerful wave, but the band also weaves in quieter moments, such as “Grip My Hand,” as counterpoints that provide emotional and sonic balance to the album. The instrumental closer, “Hard Roads,” offers a fitting catharsis that in a sense reorients the listener emerging from this unique experience of an album.

Red Mars, Connors’ first solo album of new music since 2004, is decidedly more barebones, and in this sense it’s more in line with the bulk of his work. A five-song ode to the Red Planet, the album presents a sort of sonic landscape constructed out of nothing more than a few guitar tracks. Album opener “On Our Way” benefits from the fantastic interplay between Connors’s guitar and bass work by Margarida Garcia, creating the sensation of floating across the vast sea of space. “Red Mars I” and “Red Mars II” are barren, but breathtaking, portraits of the cold Martian landscape. These songs have a feeling of improvisation about them, but at the same time each quiet note from Connors’ guitar sounds fitting, if not preordained. As with Connors’s best work, Red Mars is evocative of a number of sensations, from awe to isolation and from radiance to desolation, making this album perfect for quiet nights.
Ron Wadlinger

MP3: Haunted House, “White Rabbit”

Jack Oblivian
Rat City
Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum

Jack Oblivian has been involved in plenty of subsets of rock & roll over the years. There’s the sludgy swamp rock he made with the Oblivians, the rattletrap ’60s-styled blues of the Compulsive Gamblers, and the crunchy country he churned out with the Tennessee Tearjerkers, as well as almost every other branch of that rock & roll tree in his solo work. Really, Oblivian’s music is the epitome of the Memphis sound: a sturdy backbeat, a memorable hook, clear lyrics, and an awesome guitar sound. Think Jay Reatard, Reigning Sound, or maybe more like Carl Perkins. You get the idea, it’s rock & roll.

But, you can’t put Jack in a corner. Rat City isn’t by any means just plain, old guitar music. The title track is a real ripper, Oblivian’s vocals drenched in reverb and only taking a backseat to the alternately slamming and jabbing guitars. Then there’s “Old Folks Boogie.” What is that, a flute? And later on “Crime of Love,” did I just hear a disco bass line? Or “Dark Eyes”—is this where the Strokes stole all of their good stuff? You can hear more Television and Heartbreakers buried in Rat City than Oblivians, and maybe Jack decided that it’s time for a radio hit, as more than one song here could suit the stations. Foremost is “Girl on the Beach,” a simple, fiddle-led Springsteen-esque rave-up. With a pounding, tinkly piano line and lyrics about an abusive boyfriend (“I’m gonna kick him in the dick, roll him in a ditch”), it could have been Jay Reatard’s next single. Rat City has pretty much everything you’d expect from Jack Oblivian (and some stuff you wouldn’t), but he’s compressed it all and distilled it down so only the standouts made the cut. This one’s a keeper.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

MP3: “Rat City”

Qwazaar & Batsauce
Bat Meets Blaine

Sometimes, due to the type of artists we cover here at Agit, we have precious little advance information about the bands and records we are reviewing. Sometimes it’s just as simple as an interesting name while in other instances we’re left wondering what the hell the press release is talking about. When the debut full-length from Chicago emcee Qwazaar and Berlin-based producer Batsauce, Bat Meets Blaine, came across my desk, it was a little bit of both.

So there was a tiny bit of trepidation before the laser hit the disc, but that feeling evaporated instantly. Bat Meets Blaine is a throwback, boom-bap, straightahead hip-hop record without announcing itself as such. Too many artists trip over themselves declaring how underground they are without trying to make it a better alternative to mainstream. Qwazaar & Batsauce don’t have that problem. While they do have the requisite “my skills are better” songs, they also balance them with more introspective tunes and nice storytelling moments. As a team Qwazaar & Batsauce are a revelation. Back up a Mack truck and unload a ton of props and due respect to Batsauce. His production style invokes the sound of the classic ’88 without being derivative. When he cues up a soulful horn blast or drops a beat so infectious you damn near break your neck from nodding your head so hard, it’s not because it’s a welcome reprise from the mainstream, it’s because it’s unequivocally dope of its own accord. However, Qwazaar isn’t just along for the ride. With a slight tinge of Andre 3000, he unleashes a dizzying array of styles across the album. But it’s never empty calories. Instead, he adapts to the various songs so easily you may think that there’s more than one dude on the mic (though the record does boast some guests). Simply put, Bat Meets Blaine is cause to throw your hands up in joy for discovering it.
Dorian S. Ham